We’re having a few friends over for the annual Fall fiesta this week, so my next few posts will be recipes for some of the food I’ll be serving at that gathering. Let’s start with tzatziki.
I first tasted this marvelous dip my second day in Athens, Greece, where I would be spending the next 3 years working at the U.S. Embassy. It was a great assignment, so much so that my friends and I still refer to that time as the “golden years.” One of my first real Greek meals was lunch at a taverna on the top of Mount Lycabettus, a limestone hill overlooking the older part of Athens. It was a splendid Spring day – with those famous blue, blue skies contrasting with the white buildings for which Greece is so well-known.
Lunch consisted of a huge Greek salad and Tzatziki with bread. Simple, yet mind blowing. The coolness of the yogurt created the most amazing flavor when contrasted with the garlic and olive oil. I fell in love with tzatziki that day and I think I have made it almost every time I’ve entertained since that fateful day. The dip is traditionally served with chunks of hearty bread for dipping; however, I have found that it also makes a wonderful side for any kind of grilled meat, but especially lamb.
Tzatziki – Greek Cucumber Yogurt Dip
Greek yogurt is now readily available in supermarkets in the United States. I prefer Total yogurt. It’s what I used in Greece and I believe it provides the best consistency. If you like a really stiff dip or cannot find Greek yogurt, place the yogurt in a cheesecloth lined colander or strainer over a bowl and refrigerate overnight. I have found that ciabatta most closely resembles the bread used for dipping in Greece; however, you can use any white bread with a hard crust, such as baguettes or Italian bread, or even pita wedges. This recipe can be easily doubled or even tripled for parties, or because you just can’t stop eating it.
1 English cucumber
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 cups (16 ounces) Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint
black pepper, freshly ground
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Crusty bread, sliced or cut into large chunks for serving
1. Seed the cucumber by cutting it in half lengthwise and using a teaspoon to scrape out the seeds, then grate it and place in a colander and sprinkle liberally with salt. Allow to strain for 15 minutes. Press on the cucumber to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. If it still seems too wet, place in a towel or piece of muslin and roll it up to squeeze out any remaining liquid. This step will prevent the dip from becoming too watery.
2. Finely chop the garlic with enough salt to make a coarse paste. Mix the garlic paste with the cucumbers, yogurt, vinegar, mint, 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
3. Place the tzatziki in a serving bowl, and drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Serve with bread for dipping or alongside grilled meats.